SEATTLE – Ideally, Sunday would have been a day of complete rest for Kendrys Morales.
But called upon to win the game for the Mariners against Oakland, Morales made quick work of the situation, hitting the first pitch he saw from reliever Grant Balfour for a three-run walkoff homer to give Seattle a 6-3 victory in front of 22,813 at Safeco Field.
Morales had been 5 for his last 36 – all singles – before Sunday, and manager Eric Wedge saw the game as the perfect chance to get him rest with the Mariners off on Monday, saying beforehand he would only be used if needed to pinch hit.
That opportunity came in the bottom of the 10th with Mike Zunino on third, Michael Saunders on first and one out.
Morales was looking mostly to make contact and drive in Zunino for the winning run. Instead, he hit a 94 mph offering from Balfour 385 feet into the right-field bleachers.
“I thought it was a fly ball,” he said via an interpreter. “I didn’t know it was out until it was out.”
It was the first time he had ended a game with a home run since May 29, 2010, a date that will live with Morales forever. That hit, coming when he played for the Angels, was a grand slam against Seattle, which elicited a wild celebration in which Morales leapt into the air as he got to home plate, then broke his left leg as he landed awkwardly. He missed the rest of the season and all of 2011 as well.
So Sunday, as he approached home, Morales made sure to take small, baby steps to home, his teammates giving him a fairly wide berth.
“No more jump,” Morales said with a smile of what he was thinking as he approached home. “That was a learning experience for me. I can’t do that anymore, but I’ve got to celebrate this win.”
Indeed, it was one of the best of the season for Seattle, also featuring two more home runs by the seemingly ageless, 41-year-old, Raul Ibanez, who now has a team-high 17. Among other age-related factoids, Ibanez became the second-oldest Mariner to hit two home runs in a game, at 41 years and 21 days – Edgar Martinez was 41 years, 250 days when he hit two home runs on Sept. 8, 2004, against Cleveland.
“That’s not something you think about at all, really,” Ibanez said of his age. “You kind of train in the offseason for however long you have been training and you do your thing and the age thing you don’t really think about it. I guess it’s for everyone else to think about. But I don’t really think about it.”
Ibanez hit a two-run homer in the first off Oakland starter Jarrod Parker, and a solo shot in the fourth, also off Parker, to give the M’s a 3-0 lead.
Oakland got back into the game in the sixth, however, with three singles, a walk and a wild pitch off Mariner starter Jeremy Bonderman. Danny Farquhar relieved with the bases loaded, one out, and one run in, and got two quick outs to allow just one more run and leave Seattle ahead 3-2.
Oakland, though, finally got the tying run in the eighth when Brandon Moss homered off Farquhar, who until then had retired seven straight batters.
Zunino came up with one out and no one in the 10th, then struck out on a curveball from Balfour. But the ball got away from catcher John Jaso, the former Mariner, and Zunino ran quickly up the line hitting first base as the throw from Jaso went wide.
Saunders followed with a single, sending Zunino to third and bringing up Morales.
Wedge had said before the game he didn’t want Morales to even touch a bat until the sixth inning or so. In the final two innings, though, Wedge said he saw Morales with his helmet on, ready to hit.
“That was a great situation for him and for us,” Wedge said.
The win also increased Seattle’s mastery of the A’s this season. The Mariners are just 34-43 overall, but now 8-5 against Oakland, winning five of the last seven, and two of three in this series.
“They are a first-place club,” Wedge said. “And any time you are beating a first-place club you should gain some confidence from that.”